Thursday, December 31, 2009

10 in 10

I have been SICK, dear readers, and I feel like I have just missed out entirely on this lovely between-Christmas-and-New-Years time. I always like this time of year, when a lot of people are not working and kids are home from school and we are over the busy intensity of Christmas preparations but there is still a residual holiday mood that lingers with the pretty decorated tree that hasn't been denuded of lights and ornaments and sent away to be turned into mulch yet. Such a nice, fun, quiet time of year... Anyway, I have just entirely MISSED IT this year because of a cruel, cruel stomach bug. First Violet got it, then Grace, then me, and somehow Rob (with his immune system steeled by years spent in hospitals crawling with disease) managed to get by with just some gurgle-y stomach feelings. This is even more surprising because I just got an email from my parents telling me that they got sick too, being exposed to us during their Christmas visit. They left right as Violet was first getting sick--apparently not soon enough.

So here we are, at the end of 2009, and yet another New Year's Eve has snuck up on me. I had better reason, or at least a happier reason, last year but again I find myself surprised by the end of year and planning on nothing too exciting. At least last year I managed a glass of wine; I'm not sure if my stomach can handle even that at this point. It's been all Gatorade and saltines and plain rice today. The food has all stayed where it belongs, though, so that's a step in the right direction. And whether I feel prepared for it or not, 2010 is on its way!

I know there are those among of us who like to split hairs and insist that the decade we are in now will not end until a year from now, that we start counting at 1 and thus we have another year to live in the 2000's. Be that as it may, the rolling over of the numbers from 9 to 0 seems somewhat momentous and thus, I shall recount ten things that I have done in the last ten years (inspired by Dawn, who writes a thoughtful mothering- and adoption-oriented blog). It's been a big decade for me, full of SERIOUS life changes. January 31, 1999 found me 21 years old in New York City-- in Times Square itself, actually, watching the ball drop in person in a cold, bundled-up mass of humanity with friends from my college improv comedy troupe. I was pretty sure that the whole Y2K thing wasn't going to spell the end of the world, had recently broken up with my fiance, and had one more semester left at college. Ten years later, I will not be in quite as glamorous a location. Too bad I'm so boring now, right? The past decade has not been boring, though; that's for sure...
  1. I got a bunch of degrees and really loved getting them. I was so happy as an undergrad with my goofy friends and my physics classes, and then enjoyed my time in graduate school with my fun project and advisor and fellow graduate students.
  2. At the end of all of that, I figured out that the academic research life was in fact not the right one for me and I didn't want to be on that fancy-schmancy career track. Looking back, I was never 100% committed to that life but I feel confident that I gave it an honest try, enjoyed it while I was there (well, up until my postdoc job), and will be able to use that experience to do other, non-big-time-research stuff that is a better match for me.
  3. I learned to love sushi, and beer, and kale, all things that 21-year-old me would have insisted are yucky.
  4. I got married. I started dating Rob right at the beginning of those ten years, actually, with our first date in January 2000. Wow, we have been together for 10 years now!
  5. I had two babies, who changed who I am forever and are the sweetest funniest prettiest best babies on the planet.
  6. I lost my first grandparent, and am happy to close out these 10 years with the other three still part of my life.
  7. I changed a lot of what I put on and in my body, how I cook, what I buy, and how I live in efforts to be kind to my body and the planet and whatnot. I could certainly do better, but I'm in a more mindful place than I was 10 years ago.
  8. I (well, really "we") bought two houses and ended up regretting it both times. Stupid housing market! It is fun to be homeowners, though-- to get to paint and decorate and have a place that is your own. Not really enough fun to balance losing money on houses, of course (and losing money on our house here is not a given yet), but there you go. We are still waiting for those time machines to be able to go back and tell the 2005 and 2008 versions of ourselves to NOT BUY A HOUSE.
  9. I was part of the very biggest church I have ever attended and the very smallest church I have ever attended. One felt much more like home than the other, but both experiences have taught me things about myself and this community we call Christianity.
  10. I moved away from Texas for the first time and then back. It's been tough being back in a lot of ways, but living so much of my life here has definitely had a big impact on who I am and how I view the world.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas Has Come

Merry Christmas
Photography and card design by Kathy Krey

I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

One Year of Violet

One Year of Violet

One year ago today I went to the hospital early in the morning having a few contractions, and a few hours later I was here, holding a tiny minutes-old Violet. She has been here out in the world for a whole year, a whole set of seasons, one whole trip around the Sun. I feel bowled over with love for the tiny floppy creature in our video who moved her little hands like she was still living underwater, but then I look down at the floor by my chair right now and I see this sociable, laughing baby girl with her wide-open chocolate eyes and round pink cheeks and hair just getting long enough to curl and I feel so happy for me-in-the-video because I get to know and mother this new person we have just met.

This year has gone blindingly fast in many ways, much faster than Grace's first year, but it has been a beautiful, amazing year as we've watched Violet emerge from the insularity of newborn life into the crawling, playing, laughing one-year-old she is today. She loves cheese and remotes and climbing up stairs and picking up microscopic bits of detritus from the floor, and she dislikes having her diaper changed and riding in the car and bonking her head. She loves new physical objects she's never seen before and enjoys emptying bins of toys. She thinks riding in the grocery cart is one of the super funniest things ever, although she doesn't do it too often, usually napping in the sling or Ergo while Grace rides around. Drinking from a cup is also highly entertaining, although more for recreational than thirst-quenching purposes. She is such a busy baby, with such engrossing things to do, and she crawls and climbs expertly (and quickly). She finally seems like she is able to handle Grace's overenthusiastic affection with a bit more equanimity; she is now only infrequently terrified and even sometimes thinks she is hilarious. She says "mama" and "uh oh", but also has a whole repertoire of funny closed-mouth vocalizing where she mimics the rhythms of conversation without actually talking. When she nurses, she likes to reach up and tangle her little chubby fingers into my hair. Rob and I have commented how just in the past few weeks, she has blossomed into new levels of cheery, plump gorgeousness and smiles-- oh, the smiles...

Happy birthday, beautiful.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Birthday Boy

Today is Robert's birthday-- hooray! He was nearly a Christmas baby, as was Violet, and I just love his reflection on babies and Christmas. His birthday makes me think about how fortunate I am that he is here in the world and that he is who he is. We're going to have chocolate mousse cake and fettuccine alfredo, which seems an indulgent but not quite adequate celebration somehow. That picture is from almost 10 years ago in the first several months of us dating; I can't believe that we've been together for almost a third of our lives. From the beginning of our relationship, I've always felt that I can be more myself, more the "real me", with Rob than with anybody else I've known. (That would explain why we're talking on our shoe phones, I think.) The world is lucky to have him, and so am I.

Many happy returns of the day, Rob

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Visitors from the West

Papa & Violet

Rob's parents left yesterday to head back to California after their December visit to see us. We had such a nice quiet time with them, cooking at home and going to the playground and reading books and going out to eat. And raking the leaves! Somehow we are never inspired to rake our leaves unless family is involved; last autumn's pile did not get raked until January when my parents came over in Violet's early days to clean the house and take care of us and my dad and Rob did it. This year, the leaves sat on the ground until Rob's dad arrived and the two of them spent a good chunk of Saturday working in the yard. I had grown so accustomed to our messy front yard that it is still a pleasant little shock every time I walk up to our door. We played games every evening after the girls went to bed and showed Rob's parents around Grace's little preschool and jaunted down to the med school for lunch a few days when Rob had to work. For our last lunch, we went to a little pharmacy/soda shop that was utterly charming. So fun!

Rob's parents had gotten some bad news right before they departed their home to come visit us. Rob's dad had cancer a few years ago and although they thought they had gotten all of it at the time, they have just learned that it spread to a lymph node. They think it is just a single lymph node and that they can do surgery to remove it (both goods things to hear) but it is still a scary and difficult time. Boy, Rob's parents sure have had a rough year health-wise-- his mom had cancer this past summer, then faux-cancer in the fall, and now this recurrence of his dad's cancer. Enough with the cancer already! It makes me want to feed Rob a super-healthy, all-antioxidant diet or something. Anyway, serious health issues have made us realize what a gift it is to have time with family and to get to enjoy the presence of these people we love so much. We are so glad they came.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Stars of Royal Beauty Bright

Ooooooo, exciting lights!

Our dog Abbey has very intense feelings about lights of the flashlight, laser pointer, reflection variety. Not being privy to the inner workings of her mind, we aren't entirely sure whether those intense feelings are deep love or obsessive hatred, but lights certainly get her attention and make her quiver with fixation. Every year when we get Christmas lights out and start to string them on the tree, she barrels in to the middle of things and stares them down, somehow mysteriously compelled by their twinkly glow. See, here's last year's picture.

Actually, this year her reaction to the Christmas lights was a bit slower, a bit more doddering. Looking at that picture from last year makes me realize how much she has aged in the past year. Abbey is 9 years old now, and is of a breed that lives an average of 8-10 years. Up until a few months ago, I would have said she seemed like herself and was doing great, but lately she has just been aging before our eyes, slowing down and losing muscle tone in her face (crazy droopy eyes!) and seeming really old. She is such a sweet good dog still; I hope she enjoys a very long winter of her life.

She wasn't the only one to play with the lights. Every year while putting up the tree, from sometime in my early teens, I like to take pictures all tangled up in the Christmas lights. I have them with my sister in high school (sadly not digital, of course), as a newlywed with Rob, pregnant, and now, I get to inflict my will upon my innocent children. BWA HA HA HA. Being a parent is awesome.


Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Tidings of Comfort and Joy

Time to trim the tree

Hooray, it's Christmastime! Was I feeling all full of angst and weltschmerz a mere week and a half ago? Now we are listening to Christmas music and soon I intend to address Christmas cards and we have our tree up and we are even having a gorgeous cold snap-- I am full of Christmas cheer, in other words. This has happened to me for several years now, and I think the problem is that the very first harbingers of the Christmas season are the commercials and Black Friday and the consumerism, and ugly black harbingers they are. But then we get into the actual holiday season and all the things I love about Christmas and Advent and my gloom passes.

Sweet girls

This past weekend, we brought our house firmly into Christmas mode by putting up our tree. I grew up with artificial trees because some of my family is very allergy prone, so there is still a certain level of novelty and daring to a real Christmas tree for me. The smell, the earthiness, the intense prickly green of the needles... There is a wonderful, magical strangeness to this syncretistic pagan tradition. We cut down a TREE and bring the whole thing into our HOUSE? Crazy.

Crazy beautiful.


Friday, December 4, 2009

Things I Have Tried to Explain to Grace This Week

  • hide-and-seek
  • Simon-says
  • that the language we speak is English
  • the phases of the Moon
  • an Advent calendar
  • the length of a year, a month, a week
  • headlights and turn signals on the car
  • death
I've had varying levels of success. I think she is most clear on the point of the Advent calendar; as for most unclear, I believe it is a tie between Simon-says and death.

Sunday, November 29, 2009


Today is the first day of Advent, and my inner Anglican is feeling pretty happy. I come from a religious tradition that minimizes the importance of ritual and liturgy and the church calendar and all that in favor of plain churches and a focus on what we believe (i.e. not very Anglican at all), but despite spending my whole life immersed in such thinking, I love the counting down and the contemplation and the inner preparation that is available in this season. We decided to wait until next weekend to actually get a tree and decorate and all that (with Christmas falling on a Friday this year, Advent is particularly long and we like to keep the tree as fresh and uncrunchy as possible for the benefit of the ACTUAL LIT CANDLES) so this weekend we just basked in the glow of feeling thankful and delicious leftovers and a great deal of football. I think we will begin playing Christmas music this week, though, and start gearing up.

Although I love love love Christmas, I feel like I have a harder time each year with Black Friday and the shopping and the consumer culture, especially in the face of the real lack that exists here and around the world. It makes me physically queasy and part of me wants to opt out entirely of the gifts. It's not like there is a single person I will exchange gifts with this year that actually needs some physical thing that I can wrap up for them. I am not a Scrooge; I love the music and a pretty Christmas tree and special fancy meals and, gosh, having kids at Christmastime has made it WAY MORE AWESOME, but still the commercials on TV and the parking at the mall and the vast amount of crap being bought is just horrifying, just gross. I think what helps me face it all is that every year we do a little bit better, a little bit more to make Christmas what we actually want it to be. Fewer gifts, more meaning.

This video is from last year and I find it so moving. In the interest of full disclosure, it has made me nearly cry about half a dozen times:

And here is this year's video from the same organization, which I find not quite as moving but is still great:

I find these ideas really challenging because it is HARD to invest meaningful amounts of time with people, especially with our family members who live far away. It is easier to spend money via some online shopping to send them a gift. One option that we often take advantage of is a gift from World Vision; it is such a good option for people who don't have anything they really want or need but who you want to remember with a gift. They send you these little cards that describe what you chose (chickens or a small business loan for a woman or a well) that you can wrap up and send to your recipient. I'm very happy about exercising this option but I would like to do more gifts that are personal but still outside the consumer consciousness. Last year, Rob's parents asked for a thumb drive with a lot of photos of us on it for them to use in their digital picture frame; I would like to be able to think of more things like that, things that involve our time and energy but not some wasteful tchotchke that had to be manufactured and shipped and will then collect dust.

And if you're in the mood for a little Christmas music, go listen to some Sufjan in my Advent post from last year. I was very tempted to post that video again because I just love it/him/that whole album but I restrained myself.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Finding Their Voices

Violet has discovered a new word, and is exploring how best to apply it and explore the layers of meaning it can contain. She says, "Uh oh!" in her sweet little baby voice, whenever something hits the floor or is dropped or otherwise goes awry. She has taken to dropping things on purpose, just to be able to say it, which is super funny. Perhaps even funnier, though, is when she lets fly a whole string of "Uh oh uh oh uh oh" when something goes really wrong, like the other day when she pulled a basket off the couch and its contents spilled everywhere. I think my very favorite might be when she says it almost absentmindedly in this tiny quiet voice, like she is talking to herself, when I drop something and she is only half paying attention to me. It's like I can almost see the wheels turning in her head as she is learning about language and cause and effect and all that. I can't believe that a year ago I looked like this and now she is this, this gorgeous, whole, complicated person who obviously has an internal life and a sense of humor and an ever-increasing independence. And yet ANOTHER cold this Thanksgiving weekend, but such is life.

Grace's speech is very grown-up now and so many of her funny mispronunciations have fallen by the wayside. She does still replace the first syllables of many words with the sound ber-, though. For instance, we grew bermatoes* in our garden this year and when something is not real it is bertend and in the mirror you see your berflection and food that is really good is berlicious. Also, she has some weird mental block about correctly pronouncing the word yellow. She can totally make all the sounds that make up the word and if you can trick her into not realizing what word it is she will say it, but she can't somehow get her tongue around it if she is thinking of the color. It comes out as sort of "lellow" usually, with an odd slur on the second l sound. Who knows what wackiness lurks in the minds of adorable preschool children?*

*Speaking of tomatoes, our plants are still going strong; can you believe it? It's practically December! We had a ton of rain this fall and just like magic our tomatoes started producing and growing these lovely, normal-sized fruits. It's like plants need water or something to thrive-- crazy, I know. It's so cool now and we aren't getting as much sun so they aren't ripening as quickly, though, and when they are ripening they aren't getting to that gorgeous summer scarlet, but to a more muted hue. We are now in a race with the first overnight freeze. Will our oodles of green tomatoes make it to red/orange/yellow before we get the first frost? I can hardly bear the anticipation!

*And speaking of adorable preschool children, Grace got her first real haircut last week. I sort of half-heartedly trimmed the sides back in March, but she still had a LOT of uneven baby ends and it was growing out into a weird shape. Her hair has been so slow to grow that I haven't wanted to cut it but I finally decided it would really benefit from a better shape. I went to the guy who just cut my hair the week before because he specializes in curly hair and gave me a great cut, and I consider it a smashing success. Grace stood very still and was very patient but also VERY. SERIOUS.

Style is serious business

It turned out really adorable and I am very happy with it, although we basically have the same haircut now, which is a little odd. We're TWINS! Now if only I could somehow have the same skin as her as well as the same hair...

The new 'do

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Sartorialist

Warning: first world problem ahead.

I have nothing to wear. Well, more accurately, I should say that I have very little to wear (not a huge problem in and of itself, I admit-- I am in theory a fan of the small but well-chosen wardrobe) but nothing that I like to wear. Do you too go through these phases where everything in your closet looks boring and tired and unflattering and decidedly un-chic? I am not one of those people who claims to not care about clothes and throw on whatever happens to present itself; I really like clothes and fashion and fabric and color and I like to think about what I wear. Sadly, most of what fills my closet makes me feel more gloomy than happy. I have taken a dispassionate, steely-eyed resolve to my closet lately, adding item after item to the Goodwill pile after deciding that no, I don't actually like that shirt and no, it doesn't actually look good on me. I have not been buying clothes, however, so my closet keeps getting emptier and emptier. I've been losing weight at a slow but steady rate and have shrunk out of several sets of clothes but am not yet at what I hope will be my final size/weight, so that complicates matters when it comes to shopping. I haven't shopped for clothes since those immediate postpartum days when I was too big for any of the multiple sizes of clothes that I was storing in bins in our extra closet. I've lost a good 40 lbs since then and have cycled through most of those clothes except the very few pieces of pre-Grace clothes I have held on to, which I hope to be able to fit into, oh, about when they look ridiculously 5-years-out-of-style.

And even if I were to go shopping, I can't decide what I actually want to buy. Most of my days are spent with at least some substance on my clothes that wasn't there originally and I do a lot of carrying and cooking and cleaning, so nothing that has to be dry-cleaned or minced about in. Most of my friends in a similar stage of life have embraced jeans as their uniform of choice, but I am just not a jeans person. So uncomfortable! I have one pair right now that I can tolerate pretty well, but those are starting to get too big. I really do prefer to wear skirts, which I think means I need to invest in some tights for winter. I have a longstanding desire to dress in a more eclectic (eccentric?), funky, vintage-y style, like Gertie or Erin or Amanda but I struggle with how to actually do that, short of throwing everything out and spending a lot of time/money to sew/buy my whole wardrobe afresh. I have taken great strides to break my habit of buying myself boring clothes from Target and Lands End but I can't quite figure out how to dress myself without those crutches. Clothes-- GAH!

In less angsty fashion-related news, I recently got out another bunch of Grace's hand-me-downs for Violet to wear and can I just reiterate how fun it is to get out these sweet clothes and use them again with a second baby? It is causing me a bit of cognitive dissonance, though, because Violet is wearing clothes right now that Grace wore when she was walking. WALKING! This is partly because Grace walked early (at 11 months, which Violet will be in just a few short days) and partly because Violet is a bit bigger than Grace was at the same age (about 1 lb more at their 9-month check-ups). It seems just impossible and wrong that these clothes can be worn by a crawling, non-walking baby. Violet last week learned how to pull up to standing and crawl up stairs (within the same 24-hour period), but she isn't going to start walking anytime in the immediate future. And Violet is wearing turtlenecks for the first time, since we have been having a delightful cold snap, which also makes me do a double-take. The very first time I ever put Grace or Violet in a turtleneck, I thought, "Whoa! Beatnik baby!" Just like the first time I put either of them in a little polo collar (on a dress, I think...) my first reaction was, "Whoa! Preppy baby!" It's funny what you get used to.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

What Day Is It Again?

I am so confused about what day it is. Rob was away last weekend, making it feel non-weekend-y, and then he stayed home for a day after getting back from his conference in Miami, making that feel very weekend-esque despite the fact that it was a Wednesday. Now I am all discombobulated, but very happy to be all back together.

Grace and I got sick while Rob was away, and I was again reminded that being the sole caretaker for two small children while feeling sick is a special kind of miserable. The kind where you don't really get to take a nap and yet your child still ends up watching too much TV. (Grace's favorites right now are Ni Hao, Kai-Lan and Little Bill; I have had the song from that first one stuck in my head for several days now.) I wasn't all that sick, thank goodness. Every illness I have had in the last year has seemed not too dreadful because I mentally compare it to that killer UTI I got at the very end of being pregnant with Violet and I always think, "Well, this really isn't that bad." I think that might be the most violently ill I have ever been in my life, with the runner-up being a vicious case of food poisoning I had in Bukhara that commenced with me throwing up outside an 800-year-old mosque. Good times!

Whenever I am sick with the common-cold-respiratory-virus kind of illness, I always want pho. It is the perfect comfort food for when you are sick, like chicken noodle soup but way, way better. The yummy noodles and nourishing broth and delicious aromatic chiles and basil and cilantro and lime-- I wanted some SO BADLY when I was sick but could not see myself packing up both children and making it to a restaurant by myself. I finally satisfied my pho craving yesterday when Rob took me and Violet out to lunch while Grace was at preschool. (Shhhh, don't tell her we went to a restaurant without her; she'll be mad.) I was already getting better but between the pho and the nap I got to take yesterday afternoon while Rob was home, I am now definitely on the mend.

Something else around our house seems to be acting sick-- my precious, precious serger. Noooooo! I sew a lot (although you'd never know it by my recent lack of reviewing on Pattern Review), mostly clothes for the girls and me. I have a regular sewing machine (my college graduation present from my parents) and this serger (a Christmas gift from Rob a few years back) and both of them are very robust, well-behaved machines. Neither of them have ever been persnickety or difficult to work with, but I moved the serger to clean under it a few days ago and ever since the thread tensions have been all messed up. I've re-threaded the thing several times and dug out my manual but cannot figure out what the problem is. I've decided to give it some time to itself to let it think about what it's done and if it wants to make good choices. I have put my serger in time-out. I am hoping against hope that the next time I turn it on it will have magically gotten better and/or have thought better of its perverse behavior and returned to its obliging ways. This is my favorite method of dealing with problems-- DENIAL! and IGNORING THE ISSUE! Let's hope it serves me well.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Comings and Goings

This has been a week of arrivals and departures around here. My parents came for their first visit since they officially moved out of their house, and it was really great to see them. They left from a long stint of cold gray rain in Chicago to arrive to our balmy autumn blue skies, so warm you don't need long sleeves and the sun shining bright. I tried to explain that we too just came off a long stretch of rainy weather but I don't think it really helped. We had a good time with them for a few days and heard all about the new house they are planning on buying (they have changed their minds about the other houses they made offers on) and let my dad work Grace up into a manic, gleeful frenzy with his mere presence and showed off Violet's new tricks of clapping and crawling and charming the pants off anyone she can.

Then I got to spend a couple hours with a dear friend who was visiting Dallas after moving away to Cincinnati this past summer. Our history together goes back to our college days and we're both mothers to toddlers now and married to physicians and she is so smart and thoughtful and interesting; it was a fun, refreshing time. We talked a bit about being in medicine and discussed how almost everyone we know now says if s/he could go back and do it over again, s/he would not choose to go to medical school. I don't know if it's just the stage of career all our friends are in (mostly still in residency or fellowship and thus miserable to some extent) or that most of our physician friends are parents now (and thus struggling with work/life balance in what can be a pretty unfriendly environment) or that many of our doctor friends are really conservative (we do live in Texas, after all) (and thus quaking in fear that health care reform is going to make medicine an even more problematic career than it already is). For our part, Rob and I are feeling sort of hopeful that SOMETHING will get done to start fixing our broken, broken healthcare system. Let's throw it all out and start over! I'm sure that will be totally fine, right?

Another brief, and not nearly so welcome, visitor was some kind of cold virus that has been plaguing Violet. Babies with stuffy noses are just so miserable. Poor little thing... She didn't have any fever or much else going on, and for that I am thankful. Now that it is flu season (and swine flu season too, apparently) I will admit to a bit of heightened watchfulness every time anyone comes down with a sniffle. Last week Grace got the H1N1 mist and a seasonal flu shot, and Violet got just the seasonal flu shot (along with polio and whatever else she was due for at her one-month-late 9-month check-up). Our pediatrician didn't have any H1N1 for babies so no decision to be made there. I keep thinking that now I should go get a flu shot and maybe an H1N1 one if they will give it to me, but that would probably involve me finding a doctor. Rob and I are kind of bad about having a primary care doctor (irony, yes), but soon we will be forced to because we have to get a doctor to "assess" us and fill out a form and give us a TB test (TB? why?) for the adoption paperwork.

And the departure of greatest import around here this week was Rob's this morning as he left for 6 days at the ACAAI meeting. Six days! What shall I doooooooo... I am so out of practice on the solo parenting gig. During most of residency, Rob was gone for ~30 hours every 4th day or so and only got 4 days off a month so I was much more accustomed to handling stuff on my own. I am so spoiled now, though; Rob does bathtime and bedtime for Grace every night and helps me cook dinner most evenings. He does a lot to keep our home together from a practical standpoint, but even more than that, I really like being with him and having him here is infinitely, infinitely better than having him away. So here are some of the things I will miss while he is gone...
  • Showers: Well, maybe I will not actually go 6 days without showering but I'm not quite sure how I will manage it without him here. Grace will watch TV but Violet is not nearly as content to sit in the little bouncy seat on the bathroom floor as Grace was at that age. She usually ends up thrashing around and crying in protest at being restrained. Fun! Maybe I will be forced to consider the shower-while-baby-sleeps option? I hate using sleeping baby time to do boring stuff like that.
  • Weekly Nap: I feel like I am doing really good at staying caught up on sleep these days, but I do take a glorious, restorative nap each weekend while Rob watches the girls.
  • Running: I don't have a double stroller so I think I will be limited to walking with Grace in the stroller and Violet in the Ergo. Although now I am chuckling at the idea of trying to run with Violet on my back.
  • Getting to Spend Time with the Person I Love Best in the Whole Wide World: Cheesy, but yeah.

Friday, October 30, 2009

My, What Big Indulgences You Have!

My, what big eyes you have!

It is the end of October and this means that a) they have posted Martin Luther's 95 theses on the wall (not the door?!) at Grace's preschool (yes, run by a Lutheran church) and b) Grace dressed up as Little Red Riding Hood for our Halloween celebrations this year. I may not be the biggest fan of this particular holiday but what are you gonna do? Originally Grace wanted to be a flower, then a mermaid, then Little Red Riding Hood, then a princess (OH NOOOOOOOOOES!), then a fairy, but I did my planning/purchasing/sewing during the Little Red Riding Hood phase so that's what she got. There was a bit of parental encouragement to switch from a mermaid, especially on Rob's end, because it seems like mermaid costumes always involve a seashell bra or a bare midriff or something. The sexualization of little girls is so repellent.

So anyway, yes, Halloween! Candy! Costumes! We went to the fall festival at our church one evening this week and had a grand time. Grace pet a snake and a greyhound and a goat of some kind, ate some cotton candy, and played a few games in exchange for some bits of candy to put in her basket. The biggest hit, according to her, was the collection of inflated things: bounce houses and a big slide and child-size tunnels and mazes. She found them initially terrifying (especially the tunnels) but then thrilling. Isn't that always the way?

Petting a snake


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Great Hair Experiment of 2009

I have not used shampoo in 5 weeks. That's right-- over a whole month without any lather of bubbly shampoo. If you hang out much in real life or online around green/environmental-type people, you are sure to have heard about this already, but in case you haven't, it turns out that you can wash your hair with baking soda and condition it with apple cider vinegar. Crazy, right? I've heard about it a number of times (here and here, among others) but when Tsh at Simple Mom (who probably doesn't remember me but who I met when I lived in Austin during grad school) wrote about it last month, I finally decided to give it a go. The idea is that shampoo unnecessarily strips natural oils from your hair (which are actually good for your hair), making it produce more oil to compensate and embroiling you in a vicious cycle of needing shampoo to get rid of the excessive oil. The more shampoo you use, the more you need. And using a tablespoon each of baking soda and apple cider vinegar is much cheaper and friendlier to the Earth than a tablespoon each of shampoo and conditioner. It sounded a little insane to me and like there was no way it would work, but that was my same initial response to, oh, cloth diapering, breastfeeding past a baby's 1st birthday, making bread at home, or any number of other things that I now do with enjoyment so eventually I decided to give it a try. Five weeks in, I am a big fan and I don't see myself going back.

The most significant thing I noticed is that my hair, well, still mostly just looks like my hair. I interpret this as a positive and it makes me ponder all the shampoo and conditioner (and the bottles they came in) that have been manufactured and shipped and purchased and recycled in the pursuit of cleaning my hair, when it turns out my hair looks pretty much the same without it. Not entirely the same, though, and the differences are positive. My hair is softer, shinier, and has lost that straw-like feeling. It also has more volume, and I think this whole baking soda/apple cider vinegar thing might make the biggest difference for people who feel like their hair is flat and limp. I am really happy, and I have been having way more good hair days since I kicked the shampoo habit. These differences are pretty subtle, though, I admit. Rob, for instance, says he cannot see any difference at all. (Men!) I had only the barest hint of a transition period (when some people feel really oily while their hair adjusts to not having its natural oils stripped away) that lasted maybe two weeks, but it was really not noticeable at all. Of course, curly hair pretty much never looks greasy or oily, even when it is, so I had that going for me.

So here's my routine: I put about 2 tablespoons into a squeeze bottle (like one of these) and fill the container up with warm water, then shake to mix it up. This amount will last me about 5-6 uses and I keep it in my shower. I also keep a plastic cup in my shower and pour about a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar into the cup right before my shower. During my shower, I get my hair wet, then use the squeeze bottle to apply the solution to my scalp and roots (I don't work on the rest of my hair much), massaging it in. I rinse it out, then take my cup containing apple cider vinegar and fill it up with warm water from the shower. I pour this diluted vinegar on to my hair from the cup, concentrating on my ends, then rinse this out. It does smell like vinegar while I'm doing this, but only until it's all rinsed out. That's it! Then it's on to whatever concoction of styling products I have decided to try that day. This routine has had no problem getting product out, in case you're wondering.

A few aspects of the new hair routine have taken some getting used to. My very first impression was, "Gosh, this feels different." When you have been accustomed to the bubbly soap-y lather of washing your hair with shampoo every single day of your whole entire life, it does feel kind of weird to forego it. Washing your hair with baking soda feels not at all lather-y but instead just slightly slippery; it is a different sensory experience. The next thing is that the mixed-up water and baking soda mixture must have a significantly higher thermal conductivity than shampoo because it feels COLD going on my head on a cool morning. It is, of course, the same temperature as the shampoo since they have both just been sitting in our bathroom at thermal equilibrium with the everything around them but it feels a lot colder. I suppose I could get around this by mixing up new baking soda solution every morning right before my shower using warm water; maybe I will do this during the winter if it really bothers me.

And the last thing that has been not-quite-awesome is that I feel like more hair is coming out in the shower. I got a little concerned for a while there, actually, and I am still not quite sure why this has happened-- is my hair breaking more? is this just normal shedding of hair at the end of its growth cycle (that somehow I wasn't noticing before)? In all my googling, I have not come across anyone else having this particular problem with the baking soda/apple cider vinegar routine; in fact, people are always waxing eloquent about how gentle baking soda is. I started this whole experiment almost immediately after frying my hair with some home hair dye, so I originally thought that my hair was just brittle and damaged and breaking from that. I feel like that should have calmed down by now, though... I am not sure. I don't feel like I have more breakage and I certainly don't have more split ends (although curly hair pretty much hides any split ends); if anything, I think my hair looks better. I guess I will just monitor the situation and re-evaluate if it starts to seem like my hair is all breaking and falling off.

Delving into the natural hair care world made me curious about some of the styling product recipes that people have out there and those have been less than successful for me. I tried using coconut oil as a leave-in conditioner and styling product and although it made my hair look pretty good (and smell DELICIOUS) it made my face break out wherever my hair would come into contact with it. I tried making hair gel from flax seeds and this did not work for me. The gel did not have enough hold and it wasn't very shelf-stable; I would have to cook a new batch every few days because it went all runny and non-gel-like pretty fast.

This experimenting made me rediscover the online curly-hair community (yes! people have whole message boards about having curly hair!) and some of the routines and styling products that those people like have been great for my hair as well. The most common routine is based on this book and also involves eschewing shampoo, although in favor of a cheap conditioner that will clean your hair gently instead of baking soda. Right now, I am alternating days of using the baking soda and apple cider vinegar (any day that I work out and get sweaty) with days of just using conditioner (actual conditioner, not the apple cider vinegar) and this is working great for me.

And now I have written paragraphs and paragraphs about my hair. I should stop now.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Is It a New Week Again?

We have been working on the thick stack of adoption paperwork that is our next step in that process, and I really feel like we are getting somewhere. We have reflected on our roles in marriage, our upbringings, and what kinds of medical complications we are open to, and written our address and signed our names about a billion times. I think we are getting close to being able to turn in this first stack and moving on to the next step. Hooray!

I went to Target last week and walked through the baby aisles and had an epiphany: I didn't need the vast majority of the stuff there. If you breastfeed and make your own baby food (from, you know, ACTUAL FRUITS AND VEGETABLES) and use cloth diapers, there isn't much left in the neatly organized aisles that applies to you. I don't see this as an important moral victory or something that makes me a superior mother or anything; I would never argue that those decisions are the only good choices to make. Those three choices certainly are financial and environmental victories, though, and at some level it is good to realize that we can choose to parent our children outside the expectations of what some giant company says we should buy buy buy, at least to a limited extent. (There apparently is some new baby chain called precisely Buy Buy Baby that I've seen around town. Sad!) I'm not one to eschew the consumer consciousness altogether (you would see that if you saw what else was in my Target shopping cart) but I think opting out of it to some extent is healthy for me.

Speaking of babies, Violet is getting so fun and quirky and full of personality. Here are some of her recently developed habits:
  • Taking off one sock and shoe in the car, in order to better be able to chew on the shoe. (And speaking of shopping, I got her some of these vegan washable shoes and I really like them.)
  • Scratching her nose with her tiny razor-sharp fingernails the moment I let them get the least bit long.
  • Clapping. Oh, how I love her clapping, with her gleeful wide open mouth and tiny chubby hands smacking together without really making any noise...
  • Trying to get into our entertainment center to play with the wireless router, the Tivo, our crappy receiver, and whatever other pieces of electronics live there.
  • Quickly crawling away from the entertainment center when one of us goes over there to remove her, as if to say, "What? Me? No, no, I was going over this way. I was totally not trying to get into that fascinating black cabinet."
  • Just crawling in general with determination and purpose and more speed than she has previously. I never fail to be charmed by her fluffy cloth-diapered bottom wiggling away as she crawls resolutely down the hall. She has PLACES TO GO.
  • Refusing to be spoon-fed. After 4 days of failing to get any measurable amount of food into her via spoon, I have given up and have moved over to just finger foods.
  • Having a hard time settling down to nurse unless she is sleepy. She can be distracted from breastfeeding by her sister, the TV, music, the fan, being in a place she is not familiar with, or just her own desire to be on the move. I remember this stage well with Grace; it seems like she doesn't want to nurse and she doesn't want to eat solid foods and she doesn't want to drink from any kind of cup/bottle/sippy/whatever, leading part of me to want to panic. It is only a stage, it is only a stage, it is only a stage...
  • Being enthralled with the tangled nest of cords beneath our computer desk. We probably pull her out from under there a dozen times a day, but she occasionally manages to disconnect a monitor or a speaker in the attempt.
  • Thoroughly enjoying her bath, a welcome change from her newborn days when she would cry and cry at the horror of being immersed in water.
  • Protesting and lamenting every time I change her diaper, an unwelcome change from her newborn days when the changing table was sometimes the one place we could put her down to calm her down during a crying jag. Babies, man-- they are not very dependable.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

At the State Fair

Cotton candy

Last weekend, we went to the state fair here in Dallas. It was the first time I'd been since I was a little girl, and even then my memories are somewhat confused because I am pretty sure I conflate the state fair with the Fort Worth Stock Show. Anyway, we had a really lovely time and it was one of those beautiful, perfect days you get sometimes here in autumn. Mid to late October is really the best time of year in Texas; it is sort of warm-ish, sort of cool-ish and you don't need jackets but you don't usually get hot. Autumn is such a wonderful season, and it even manages to be lovely here in Texas. When we went to the fair, we had soft blue skies with just the tiniest flecks of clouds and a warm, friendly sun.

Happy Violet

We took the light rail train down to Fair Park where the fair is held; it was very convenient and a lot more fun than trying to navigate parking with a mass of humanity. And after all, I do have a great love for train/subway-type public transportation. I also have a great love for food, and there was no shortage of fun things to try. Fried food is a thing at the Texas state fair, with awards given out for the most unique fried item and whatnot. We decided to pass on this year's big new trend, fried butter (YES-- FRIED BUTTER), but instead went with chicken fried bacon (last year's hot new item), a fried Snickers, and fried peaches and cream. They were good, but I think the best things were the corn dogs that we all started our afternoon with.

Grace meets a cow

My favorite parts of a state fair are the old-fashioned parts, like the livestock and the quilts and the pies and the Ferris wheel and all that. We explored some of the livestock barns and got to see cows and pigs and goats and sheep-- pretty much the first time Grace has seen any of these animals up close and personal, I think. And the highlight of our day was our trip on the Ferris wheel. A slow circular path up up up to the top of the tallest Ferris wheel in North America to let our gaze travel far and wide over the flat Texas prairie overlaid with city as far as the eye can see.

Peeking over the edge

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Tee Vee

My TV watching habits have been wildly different during Violet's babyhood compared to Grace's. For starters, Grace had really relaxed, leisurely nursing habits combined with rather difficult sleeping patterns that resulted in me watching quite a bit of television. It was not unusual for her to nurse for an hour at a time when she was tiny, and it was also not unusual for her to refuse to sleep unless being held. (She would be apparently completely asleep and then startle to wakefulness and tears as I gently, oh so gently, tried to lean down and deposit her in her crib. This happened ALL. THE. TIME.) These circumstances combined so that I could often be found cozily ensconced on the couch with the TV on, nursing Grace or holding her while she slept. Employed thusly, I watched a LOT of TV in the first half of 2006. I watched every single episode of Gilmore Girls thanks to reruns on some cable channel, cooking shows galore, The Daily Show, and a whole lot of Battlestar Galactica.

(Have I told you my Battlestar Galactica story? I think not. Someone had told us we would like it, so we told Tivo to record them but we never really got around to watching them. During my maternity leave when I was home full-time with Grace for 6 weeks, I finally got around to watching the first one we had recorded and I was so blown away that I watched the whole season we had recorded [Season 2, I think] in the space of 2 or 3 days sitting cross-legged on the couch with Grace curled up on the Boppy in my lap. I got to the very end of the season with its dramatic, cliffhanger ending and my jaw dropped when they splashed across the screen, "To Be Continued-- October 2006". How could they do this to me?! I could not wait that long! My tiny new baby would be 8 months old by then! In my quasi-insane hormonal haze, this seemed the most impossible thing I had ever heard.)

Anyway, Violet's breastfeeding/sleeping habits are so different that I haven't had the same long stretches of indolent TV watching. In her early weeks, we were having some oversupply/overactive-letdown issues so each nursing session was a brief chaotic milky spluttering affair that required my entire concentration. This all evened out, thank goodness, but she still has been a really fast nurser, like 5-10 minutes fast. And I almost always can manage to put her down to sleep by herself for at least a few hours, thus, much less TV watching. This pleases Robert, who is somewhat prejudiced against TV as the mindless, empty opiate of the masses. I maintain that someone who is so devoted to playing pretend college football on the Xbox has nary a leg to stand on.

The other important difference in my TV watching now is the little-pitchers-big-ears phenomenon. There is just not much I feel comfortable watching when Grace is awake and in the house. She is at that sponge stage where she hears and understands way more than I give her credit for. She will quote lyrics back to us from any songs she hears, and brings up things from books or TV shows DAYS later. So if I want to watch something while I fold a load of laundry, I am left with, what, cooking shows? Yep, that's pretty much it. Grace divides my cooking shows into "man cooking" (mostly Alton Brown) and "lady cooking" (mostly Nigella Lawson) and will usually consent to watch them with me, although sometime she protests and insists that she would prefer her own TV shows. I know the feeling, Grace-- I know the feeling.

A recent addition to my TV diet, one that I do sometimes watch in Grace's presence, is Adoption Stories. For those of you unfamiliar with it, it's like all those baby/birth/pregnancy shows on TLC or Discovery Health except it's about adoption. Rob finds this highly amusing because when I was pregnant with Grace, I was obsessed with those childbirth shows and watched them all the time. I lost interest pretty quickly after she was born because, well, it's turns out there's not a lot of variety in them. I will admit there's not a ton of variety in the adoption ones either, but I will then also be forced to admit that yes, I think I've seen nearly every episode. I know I've mentioned our adoption plans in passing (as has Rob now), but we really are doing this. We have met with a social worker and gone to a big 8-hour education seminar and now have a big stack of forms sitting half-filled-out on our desk. We are adopting through Hope Cottage here in Dallas and are pursuing a domestic newborn adoption of a child who will most likely be of a different race. We are still early in the process so no babies are going to arrive anytime soon (which is good, since Violet is still very much a baby herself) but we are feeling excited about this next stage for our family. Hooray!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Gah! Is It Friday Again Already?!

The weeks fly by in a whirl of making lunches and folding laundry and cuddling little girls. There are worse ways for a week to fly by, no? Today is a lovely, cool, rainy day and both Grace and Violet are wearing LONG SLEEVES. Shocking! Oh, how I love days like this... I need to plan meals for my next grocery shopping run, and I fear that today's weather means I will be tempted to do nothing but soup and stew and warm, homey comforting foods. Foods which will not taste as good when this nice weather goes away, I suspect.

Rob's mom had her surgery this week and we got some very wonderful news afterwards-- the growth turned out not to be cancer at all! This was a big surprise to everyone and we are feeling very grateful. It turns out it was just the base of where her tonsil used to be acting all weird. Crazy, right? And my parents have a contract signed for a house in the Chicago area, so hopefully they won't be homeless for much longer. They are living right now in a temporary furnished apartment with nearly all their belongings in storage, and I know the sense of unsettled transiency is wearing on them.

I have entirely lost my sewing mojo. I have not sewn a single stitch in about a week now, probably the longest I've gone since Violet's newborn days. I'm not entirely sure why, but I suspect it is a combined result of a) a few failed projects that came in succession (ugly pants for Violet! a non-cute dress for Grace!), b) this cooler weather we've been having (for which I have more clothes that I like, fit into, etc, thus reducing my desperate sewing motivation of, "I have NOTHING TO WEARRRRRRRRR!"), and c) new fall television shows (How I Met Your Mother! Glee! Project Runway!). I am starting to feel the tiniest return of my itch to sew, so hopefully soon I will be happily slicing through fabric and listening to the whir of my serger. The first thing that I really must do is put together a Halloween costume for Grace. That's still a long time from now, but at my current rate of zero sewing projects completed per week, I really should buckle down. The other thing that I suspect might jumpstart my sewing motivation is this book, which I pre-ordered this week and cannot WAIT for. For the uninitiated, Japanese craft books (as well as Japanese textiles) are a thing in sewing/crafting circles. However, they are usually, you guessed it, in Japanese. The brave among us forge ahead anyway, relying on the pictures and diagrams and metric measurements, but I have not been so intrepid. This one, however, has been translated and published for the American market and I am SUPER DUPER EXCITED, especially because the sizing is just perfect for the, uh, consumers of my sewing efforts. It is girls' sizes 4-7, and I can easily grade the patterns down a size to fit Grace right now, and then I can use it for the years ahead.

So I've been on Facebook for a while now and I've so enjoyed catching up on with people from past bits of my life. Scrolling through all those people makes me realize that I am old (well, at least, not young) and that people take such different paths, even when they start from the same places. However, I think one of my favorite parts of Facebook might be the suggested friends-- you know, people who you have friends in common with that Facebook's algorithms think you might know. They are usually people who I do know but am not quite close enough with to "friend". (That's "friend" as a verb, of course.) The more interesting people, though, are those who I don't actually know and who have friends in common with me who I know from totally different realms of life. For instance, there is one person out there who knows both my grad student advisor from the astronomy program at the University of Texas and the Indian-born guitar player I played with at our church in New Haven. Or perhaps more amazingly, there is someone who knows that same guitar player from New Haven (who grew up in India, went to grad school in North Carolina, and now lives in Orlando), a college friend of mine from Texas A&M, a childhood friend from where I grew up in a suburb of Fort Worth, and someone I now go to church with here in Dallas. And perhaps most unlikely of all, there is someone who is friends with 17 of my friends but I have no idea who they are-- in fact, I have never heard of them in my life. Ah, Facebook... Rob has turned a bit sour on the whole phenomenon (too many quizzes, I suppose) but I am hooked.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Things I Have Learned This Week

  • Mr. Rogers called one of his grandfathers "Ding Dong".
  • Nursing sessions with a grabby 9-month-old become much less painful after you trim her nails.
  • The National Parks are pretty awesome.
  • I need to feed Violet more prunes and pears and less iron-fortified cereal. Poor non-pooping baby...
  • My old dollhouse was purchased and is going to a little girl for her birthday.
  • Using duck-bill clips in my hair while it air-dries (like this) makes it possible for me to forego the hair dryer without looking all flat and triangle-y.
  • I think they really did kill off Maid Marian in the BBC Robin Hood series.
  • I can no longer take Violet's chair pictures without another adult standing just outside the frame, ready to swoop in and catch her, or else she will crawl directly off the chair, resulting in much weeping and injury and bleeding from her mouth.
  • Rob has decided to return to the world of blogging, and will not encourage our children to be doctors when they grow up. (Well, I knew that last part already.)

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

9 Months

Last week, Violet passed the nine-month mark. She has now been here with us for as long as I was pregnant with her, a milestone that feels sort of impossible and insane. It's been nine months since she was born? And nine months before that, she was a handful of cells?

Sweet face

Violet has started babbling in the past week and when she fancies, will entertain us with a nonstop stream of "mamamamama". It's so fun to hear the beginnings of language from her, a step forward from the shrieks and laughs and other funny noises she's used before now. She bursts into dimples and smiles when we say "mama" back, and likes to chuckle with joy at us communicating with her.

Violet smiles

She is a busy, busy crawling baby these days. She gets all the way up on her hands and knees and moves forward with purpose and resolve, her cloth-diapered booty shimmying back and forth behind her. Her favorite things to crawl toward are the dog's water dish, power cords, and tiny shreds of Play Doh or paper or other trash, and she cries in frustration and disappointment when we take her away from them. We are such mean parents; we never let her have any fun.

Mmmm, delicious lens cap!

Violet is super interested in crawling and exploring and playing, but she is still not quite adept at making her way around and she is ALWAYS bonking her head on things. I kind of forgot about this stage with Grace, which I hope means it is a short one and her days of forehead bruises are numbered. Her instinct to explore is much stronger than her instinct for self-preservation, and of course by this I mean that she has NO INSTINCT for self-preservation WHATSOEVER. Also, no sense of the edges of a chair or couch or bed, and no sense that it might not be a good idea to try to throw yourself out of someone's arms in pursuit of something enticing. She is a thrill-seeking, daredevil baby.

Watch out, world. She is coming to get you.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Wardrobe Malfunctions

Gosh, we've just been adrift in a sea of unwellness lately. Stupid bodies and their stupid not-working... Rob came down with something last week that looked suspiciously like swine flu. He is one of those maddening people who NEVER gets sick, so seeing him all lethargic and feverish and ache-y was an unusual sight. He stayed home from work for a few days, which I don't think he's done since graduating from medical school. It passed quickly, however, leading us to believe it was probably not swine flu but some lesser, not-so-famous virus and *FINGERS CROSSED* no one else has gotten it. Then yesterday I came down with a migraine, an unwelcome occurrence that happens a couple times a year. I hate getting them because my symptoms are so disorienting and make me feel mentally unstable. I typically start out losing my peripheral vision on one side, then sometimes all my vision on that side, then I move on to numbness on that side of my body in the face, arms, and/or legs. It is then that the actual pain starts somewhere on the other side of my head, yesterday a stabbing pain behind my right eyeball. When I get a really bad one, I lose my ability to understand language; I will hear people talking but I won't be able to understand what they're saying. I haven't had one like that in years, thank goodness, since an episode in grad school when I freaked out my officemates and ended up sobbing in an emergency room not really understanding what anyone was saying to me. I guess it all just depends on where the over-dilated blood vessel is or whatever, although describing my symptoms is good for causing doctors to look concerned and make you do those goofy neurological tests where you tap your fingers and the like. Anyhow, I lost my Sunday to the migraine, a haze of misery and feeling slightly unhinged.

Our much, much more serious instance of physical selves failing us involves Rob's mom. She was diagnosed with colon cancer this past summer and although everything seems to be going OK with that health issue, she had a whole-body PET scan as part of oncology care after her surgery that discovered a cancerous tumor in her throat, about where one of her tonsils would be. There is still a lot about the situation that is uncertain and unknown, but it appears that the doctors are sure it is cancer and that she will have surgery very soon. There is some concern that the tumor may involve the base of her tongue, which would be not good. If you are a person who considers yourself a believing/persuaded/praying person, as we are, we would so appreciate you taking a minute to pray for Rob's mom-- for wisdom for the doctors, for healing, and specifically that her ability to talk would not be affected.

All this sickness rubbish has made me ponder our physical corporeal selves again. I think I walk around with a bit of a Platonic/Gnostic mind-body dualism in my mind (or my brain?! which is it?!), sort of believing that the real me is just walking around in this human-being suit, that we would all be happier if we could be disembodied mind/souls whooshing around without the fetters of these imperfect, malfunctioning bodies. I attribute at least part of this to my un-athletic childhood; I am not someone who spent her formative years really enjoying her physical self and what it could do. I don't really think that's the way things are, though; we're all embodied creatures and my body is just as much part of the "real me" as the parts I can't measure. I believe that I'm more than the sum of my firing neurons but I'm also somehow entangled and intertwined in my cells and DNA and biochemical processes. This freaks me out the most when I think about Grace and Violet. If, for instance, something makes me really stop and recognize that there is a tiny heart beating inside Violet, and slim bones and muscles and a tiny set of lungs, I get very weirded out, I think because it makes her seem at the same so mysterious and vulnerable. On the other hand, it has been motherhood that has brought me the most peace with my physical self, as well as the most intense realization of how beautiful our bodies as humans are.


Monday, September 21, 2009

Incisive Commentary

Two more teeth have made their savage way through Violet's poor beleaguered gums, bringing us to a total of 4. She now has those four middle teeth, two on top and two on bottom; she is a very symmetrical baby, obviously a sign of an orderly and sensible nature, right? I remember Grace having a cheekily lopsided look for a while there as one tooth would come in on its own, but Violet's are coming in nearly simultaneously. They are also coming in with a bit of misery and fuss, of course, and apparently a whole lot of nasal congestion. We are 2 for 2 now with the concurrent arrival of teeth and a runny, runny nose so I have nearly convinced myself they are related. I tend to be very skeptical about all the crazy stuff that people attribute to teething symptoms (fever? diarrhea? really?) but perhaps it is all true, or maybe some of it. Grace would be fussy and clingy and want to nurse non-stop while she was teething but that was about it. I guess this is just how it's going to be for Violet-- new teeth = much snot. Her new teeth also have caused her to sit around feeling them with her tongue or something so that her little chin is jutted out a lot of the time. Cro-Magnon baby!

Another symptom of Violet's teething is that my hair is now in a non-ideal state. I've been annoyed with the color of my hair for a while now, feeling vexed about the brassy orange ends I had (leftover from some hair coloring experiment from the past months, I'm sure). I am particularly sensitive to orangeness in my hair (yuck yuck yuck yuck) which is somewhat inconsistent, I realize, because I really love when my hair is reddish. The orangeness is a common problem I have if I ever do highlights or the like; it may look lovely/neutral/sandy right after they're done but they turn orange and brassy on me in short order. Anywho, I was won over by an alluring box of hair dye at Target that promised to turn my hair to a nice shade of brunette free of the yucky orange and then I waited for an evening to do it after both girls were in bed. We had just gotten over Violet's first spate of teething-induced sleep disruptions and she had been sleeping so much better that, carefree and cheerful, I thought, "Tonight! I shall transform my hair into lovely cool brunette tresses!" I had actually gotten all the dye onto my hair and was about to set a timer for the allotted 10 minutes when Violet woke up fussing, starting up the next round of teething. "Fine," I thought, noting the time on the bathroom clock. "I will just settle her and then come back to read or something for the rest of my 10 minutes." I then started the pat-pat-rock-rock-try-to-put-down routine, all the while carefully keeping my dye-saturated hair from touching anything, and thinking, "Oh, in another minute she'll settle and I can leave." Violet was having none of it, however. There was no clock where I could see it and eventually I grew a little nervous about how much time might have elapsed and called for Robert to come and take over the baby soothing. I then rushed back to the bathroom and saw that it had been twice as much time as I was supposed to leave the hair color on. Oops! This has resulted in my hair being a) inky, raven dark and b) kind of damaged and fragile. Fortunately I was using one of those semi-permanent 28-wash kind of hair colors so it has already started to lighten toward something approaching what I was going for, but I have looked like a slightly Goth version of a suburban mom for the past few days. In related hair news, I think I may have found my next science experiment.

My parents departed for real this past weekend and, as hard as it is for me to believe, I am now the only one of my immediate family living in Texas. My sister lives outside a military base near the Carolina coast with her Army husband and my parents are now Midwesterners living on the banks of a Great Lake (well, they're going to live in a suburb pretty far from Lake Michigan, but you get my drift). I feel somewhat flummoxed as to how I ended up being the one left behind, but there you go. I have a bit of permanent wanderlust, you see, and probably also (as Rob suggests) a bad case of familiarity breeding contempt for the Dallas area. Up until my parents left, my main feelings were being sad for them as they were so obviously grieving the end of their time here, and being sad that they wouldn't get to see Grace & Violet on a frequent basis in their quick-changing tiny humanity. Now that they are gone, I find myself feeling sad for me as well, although perhaps for the wrong reasons. Oh well-- time to reflect more on the true nature of contentment and the numerous blessings in my life. And I have certainly been tremendously blessed.


Friday, September 18, 2009

Mad Scientist Mommy

This week has been one filled with all the typical employments of being the daily caretaker for children. It's been distinct because it has been my parents' last week here in Texas (tomorrow! they leave to drive away to Chicago tomorrow!), but mostly it has been filled with the usual stuff-- reading books and a playdate or two and cooking and laundry and nursing and trips to the library, the grocery store, preschool. I have concluded that this life of a stay-at-home mom has turned out to be such a good match for me partly because it is like one fun science experiment after another. There are lots of other reasons that this life has made me so happy (a nearly unrivaled level of autonomy, I honestly like domestic stuff like cooking and sewing, my children have turned out to be super fun people to be around, and so forth) but I place a good chunk of the responsibility with the similarities between staying at home with small children and scientific pursuits. And not the annoying realities of science research with applying for super-competitive grants and jobs and bureaucracy and committees and all that, but the really fun part of science-- finding an interesting question or project and getting to figure out what the best answer is or how to build/make/do it. Granted, the projects I work on aren't answering fundamental questions about the physical universe, but somehow they appeal to the same part of me that loves inquiry and experimentation and learning how to do new things.

There are the decisions about what kind of parents we're going to choose to be, of course. My faith has impacted those decisions the most, but the background in science both Rob and I bring to parenthood has definitely informed the choices we've made about infant feeding and sleep training and corporal punishment. Knowing how to synthesize information or, you know, read a journal article is certainly helpful in choosing a path in parenting.

However, the parts of motherhood that are fun in the same way that doing professional science is fun have been a little less important. For example, did you know that you can make yogurt in your slow cooker? (Alton Brown uses a heating pad, but I don't have one of those and I do have a slow cooker.) Homemade yogurt is not very thick since it doesn't have added pectin or starch or whatever like store-bought, but draining it for a while in a coffee filter can get it to whatever consistency you want. And I've started making some of my cleaners for around the house, which definitely feels like CHEMISTRY IN ACTION. I didn't do any canning this summer with our CSA goodies, but gosh, that feels just like doing a lab experiment to me. For whatever reason, freezing (which I DID do) feels much less science-y. The whole cloth diaper enterprise feels like a big experiment (and I did originally approach it as totally experimental, halfway expecting it to not work at all). And now Grace is super interested in phonics and I can sort of see her starting the process of learning to read, which also feels like some kind of grand experiment. I guess I'm just a project-y kind of person, a person who gets excited about learning to do new things. It's why I had so much fun doing science professionally, and now it's why I'm having fun with this stage of my life. So I wonder what my next science experiment will be? I really want to try to make bread with wild yeast (you know, the yeast that LIVE OUTSIDE) but as I am working on getting to a happier weight for me, embarking on a bread-making extravaganza might not be the best idea. Hopefully none of my science projects will go as badly as this.

Monday, September 14, 2009

A Matter of Moving

Violet has achieved a new level of unfettered locomotion in the past few days, learning to crawl for real up on all fours. She's been able to make her way across a room for weeks and weeks now via a combination of rolling and scooting and mostly recently, the army crawl with her belly down on the ground, but now she has her tummy up off the ground and propels herself forward with a funny shuffling crawl where her knees sort of drag behind her and her arms pat-pat-pat forward. Of course, sometimes she propels herself forward in an uneven way where her back end goes faster than her front end, resulting in a face plant and much wailing. She bonks her head a lot right now, actually; she is getting mobile but is not very adept at it yet and many many MANY times a day finds herself conking her head on the floor, furniture, a wall, etc. Poor little bruised-forehead baby...

In other moving news, my parents' time in Texas is rapidly drawing to a close. My dad has been up in Chicago at his new job for a few weeks now and I am happy to report that it seems to be going super duper awesomely. He's already written up a patent and seems to be finding lots of ways to make a difference in his new company and find his place there. On Labor Day weekend, he flew back down and drove one of their cars up (filled with his instruments, which he prefers not to have the movers handle, and long-sleeved clothes, which apparently you need in Chicago in September) and he will fly back down here this week to close on their house here in Texas, help mom with the packing, and then they will drive out of Texas for real with their second car, drawing their 30+ year stint in the Lone Star State to a close. They don't have a house yet in Chicago so for the time begin will be hanging out in the temporary housing that my dad's new company has put him up in. As part of his hiring package, they will have ACTUAL MOVERS come in and pack up their stuff later this week and then CARRY IT OUT OF THEIR HOUSE for them. This is a wild, innovative idea to me as I have never been in a position to do such a thing. Maybe someday I too will have the good fortune to have someone else carry all my heavy earthly possessions.

Rob and I spent our Saturday moving mattresses around the Dallas/Fort Worth area. We have been sleeping on a mattress that we bought right after we got married (to replace the really dreadful thing that Rob slept on during his single days). Seven years, two pregnancies, and three homes later, it was reaching the lumpy end of its ability to keep us comfortable. We thought we were just going to have to live with it for a while longer as a new mattress is really not a budgetary possibility these days, but then my parents decided that they are going to try to downsize their living space in their new city and their guest-bedroom mattress was in need of a new home. Hooray! I am so grateful to have our need met in this way. We did have to figure out a way to get the mattress over here, and then what to do with the old mattress and my parents' box spring. We borrowed a HUGE GIANT PICK-UP TRUCK from some friends from church (who have fixed it up to run on biodiesel and rent it out to people in just our situation) and hooked a trailer to the back (mostly because it was raining all weekend) and then started a marathon of driving around Dallas and the Mid-Cities. We left our house around 1pm and drove from our house to our friends' house to pick up the truck, then to pick up the trailer at U-Haul, then to my parents'. This first stage took over an hour and Grace and Violet were starting to lose it in the car, so we convinced my mom to watch the girls for the rest of our adventure. In hindsight, this was SUCH a good idea and I am so, so grateful that she was willing to do it. We loaded their mattress and box spring into the trailer and then went back to our house, where we switched our old mattress with its hills and valleys for my parents' pristine guest mattress. We then went up to a mattress donation center to drop off our old mattress and my parents' box spring where we managed to wedge ourself into a tricky corner of the parking lot that required going in reverse to extricate ourselves. This took, well, A WHILE. Life has not given Rob a lot of opportunities to develop his going-backwards-while-towing-something skills (nor, I feel I barely need mention, has it done so for me) and that lack of experience tends to become glaring in such a situation. It made us remember all the other times we have towed a trailer and moved stuff together, perhaps most memorably the time we were moving me to grad school and could not fit all the stuff from my storage unit into the trailer I rented. We ended up making two trips between College Station and Austin within 12 hours to get it all into my new apartment.

Anyway, we did eventually disentangle ourself from the parking lot, went to return the trailer at U-Haul, then drove BACK to my parents' house to pick up our offspring. By this time, it was so late that we had to go out to eat (with my mom, which was fun, although Grace was starting to glaze over in exhaustion). Then we trudged back to our friends' house to drop off the truck and then, finally, at length, we arrived home. At what time, you ask? After 9pm. Yes, this whole thing took 8 hours. I still can't quite believe it. We did drive well over 100 miles and it was raining the whole time, but I still find it excessive. I have comforted myself by thinking that I made up for those 8 hours the very first night (it took Rob until the 2nd night to break 8 hours on the new mattress as he stayed up into the wee hours of the morning trying to catch up on all the college football he missed by motoring across the Metroplex) and now I expect to have at least 7 more years to enjoy our lovely new mattress. In that context, our lost Saturday doesn't seem quite so dreadful.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Here I Am!

Well, hmpf, I did not mean to go 2 weeks without posting, but there you go. What is new with us, you kindly ask? We've gotten back into a school-year kind of a schedule, transitioning from the unstructured summer laziness that I love so much to getting out the door at regular times with a lunch packed and closed-toe shoes on, at least a few days a week. Violet is now the proud owner of two tiny nubbins of teeth, wee razor-sharp shards poking through her pink gums. She turned into a bit of a needy, clingy baby during the worst of the teething, refusing to sleep if not physically touching/being held by me, and then succumbed to a maelstrom of nasal congestion at nearly the same time. I suspected the teething may have been the culprit behind the runny nose, but then I spent a few days under the weather myself, so who can say?

Grace and Violet are in such disparate places in communication right now that it is downright comical. Grace is so verbal these days, chatty chatty chatty, all the time with the chatting. Her brain is just full of ideas and thoughts and musings, and it all just spills out in a perpetual stream of speech and song. By contrast, Violet is this little close-mouthed sphinx of a person; she seems like such a enigma to me sometimes. What is going in her little mind? She smiles and cries and laughs and shrieks (no real babbling yet), so of course she is communicating in a totally age-appropriate way, but it's just so different.

Favorite subjects of Grace's right now include rhyming (you know, what rhymes with what else) and spelling (she is starting to grasp the rudiments of phonics and wants to know how to spell things or what word is spelled by the letters, for example, "X-T-R-S-O-S-O-S-O-K"). Also very popular right now are signs. She is especially fond of the international sign for "no" and notices it everywhere with her keen toddler vision and attention to detail; this means that we get to spend a lot of time discussing U-turns and smoking.

Speaking of smoking, I have started running again, in the morning before it gets too dreadfully hot and Rob leaves for work. On weekdays, this means that I am heading back to our house past the same few high school students waiting for their bus every time and several of them are always smoking. "No!" I want to yell. "Don't do it!" They probably wouldn't really take seriously the advice of a red-faced, unshowered 31-year-old fighting off her pregnancy weight, though, so perhaps I shall refrain.

We are still eating a non-negligible amount of eggplant, but it has definitely calmed down. At the peak, we received 22 eggplants in our weekly share-- out of control! Eggplant beyond reason! Beyond imagination! We are down to just 5 eggplants a week or so now, which is easier to deal with, and the decrease in eggplant has been met with an increase in peppers (yum!) and melons (yum yum!). I have eaten a tremendous amount of watermelon in the past few weeks, but you will get no complaints from me on that score. In our own garden, it appears that bitter cucumber season has drawn to a close and tiny tomato season may be on its downward descent. JalapeƱo season may still visit us, however; our pepper plant looks really lush and gorgeous with these beautiful leaves and a handful of diminutive emerald green jalapeƱos dangling down. I think the window for planting a fall garden is passing us by. If we don't do something ASAP, it will be too late for us to get anything going before the first frosts. That may be OK with us, though. Perhaps we'll just smother the garden in compost once everything is done and let it rest for the winter. A long winter's nap for the garden. And maybe a nap for me? At some point?